When he said this, Carl Sagan was explaining why his life has been devoted to explaining the cosmos, but it also sums up why I am blogging. Being here in Paris is so stimulating I am bursting: with ideas, with feelings (not to mention with cheese, but that’s another post). Part of this is the inexhaustible feast of visual arts that Paris offers. If you are an art lover in Canada, there is simply not that much out there to see, although we faithfully support our museums, check out temporary exhibitions in Ottawa, and consider bussing to Toronto if something is worthwhile. But while in Canada we will largely content ourselves with nature and go to New York for art.
If you have been to Paris, you have probably been to the larger museums: the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Orsay. Although not strictly a Fine Art museum, The Musee de l’Armee at the Hotel des Invalides is also large. Most people who go there limit their visit to Napoleon’s tomb, which is a shame because it is the least interesting item on display. Housed in a Louis XIV era hospital of stunning architectural beauty (OK, the golden dome may be in bad taste, but I think Napoleon III was responsible for that), the museum has so much to offer it’s hard to know where to begin. The many galleries of armour, all nations, all eras, highly decorated, often beautiful, reveal the making of armour to be an art form. Housed in their glass cases, these helmets, breast plates and swords appear as interesting sculptures. I was especially drawn to the suits of armour crafted for Louis XIII as a child.
In another area, the histories of World War I and II unfold, told through film and through displays of objects as diverse and interesting as a Paris taxicab ( the battle of the Marne, in which cabs joined the last-minute efforts to get French soldiers to the front), the first tanks, a Nazi flag, a yellow star, and gallery after gallery of uniforms, some familiar, many quite exotic. Uniforms are the signature object of this museum and in the Napoleon galleries their fabrics, embroideries and insignias are quite gorgeous and memorable.
It’s all state-sponsored propaganda, of course. And in Paris the connections between art, architecture and particular regimes are evident everywhere and need not be explained. Those in power -the Church, the Bourbons, the Napoleons – require artists and artisans to reflect and support their “glory”. In return the artists get to do art and live. Those in power pass away, the art lives on.